Since the 2016 wildfire in Strawberry Creek, plants have been growing back with unbelievable tenacity. Penstemons, globe mallows, and prickly poppies stand in stark contrast among the burnt remains of the Piñon-juniper forest.

Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri)

Fremont rock art fading into oblivion

Hundreds of years of exposure to the elements, in addition to decades of cars passing by on the nearby dirt road, have taken their toll on the Fremont rock art in Great Basin National Park. Park archaeologists are working to see if anything can be done to preserve these pictographs before nature fully takes its course.

Faintly visible are the trapezoidal bodies of multiple human figures, which are so indicative of Fremont art, painted in reddish pigment.  The pictographs have lasted at least 700 years, if not longer. One wonders if we are the last generation who will be able to see Fremont art with our own eyes.

Cleanup on Mount Wachusett


A small portion of the litter I collected today


For years I’ve trained my eyes to be the eyes of a naturalist—discerning animal sign, the shapes of leaves, stripes of quartz in granite. Today I turned my attention away, though, to concentrate on something else entirely: trash. The litter on the summit of Mount Wachusett has haunted me for years and for years I dreamed of picking it all up. When I woke this morning, the intention had crystallized into action.  And so up I went with two white trash bags flapping in the wind like the flags of surrender. Two bags, one for recyclables and one for the landfill. Into the bags went plastic water bottles, cans of Bud Light, granola bar wrappers, empty packs of cigarettes, discarded handwarmers, and dog waste. Quickly they grew heavy.

For twenty-five years I’ve lived in the somber blue shadow of Mount Wachusett. That’s all my years. My father carried me up the mountain when I was seven days old and it was then that I started learning birdsongs, wildflowers, wind. High Meadow is the only place I have ever encountered God. I’ve never looked at a trail map because I’ve never had to. But this land isn’t sacred just to me. This land is Nipmuc. This is where King Phillip’s War was fought. This is Massachusetts’ last old growth forest east of the Connecticut River. This land is sacred to every hiker who makes the pilgrimage out of the city to breathe fresh air.

As with so many things, this was not a matter of who is the wrongdoer. It does not matter who dropped what, or whether it was by accident. What matters is that I bore witness and I had the ability to set things right. Most of us do. It’s impossible to rely on the underfunded Department of Conservation & Recreation or wait for a prison crew to materialize with their trash pickers. I knew I was the only who would do it, so I did.


Please get in touch to help with future projects and visit Leave No Trace‘s website to for more on wilderness ethics. Small actions have great consequences.  Let’s band together and do more to help the Earth.